I don't think there is any doubt that financial literacy matters more than before. The traditional paternalism of society's major institutions, from business to government to education, has crumbled. Individuals need to learn more about money and finance because they have more responsibility.

That said, I think there are two universes of financial literacy. One is for middle-class families and workers. Financial literacy largely means understanding the basics of owning a home vs. renting, a fixed-rate mortgage compared to an adjustable-rate mortgage, asset allocation and diversification with retirement savings, the difference between term and whole life insurance, a Roth IRA, a traditional IRA, a 529 college savings plan and so on.  

Financial literacy for low-income families is very different: I have some thoughts about financial literacy for low-income families in a commentary for Marketplace Money. Low-income families don't have money to waste. Financial literacy is all about reducing that cost. Think debt, precautionary savings, and most importantly, public benefits.

Here are some additional resources:

About the author

Chris Farrell is the economics editor of Marketplace Money.

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